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Economic Data Point to Stronger Start to Third-Quarter Growth

Wednesday, 12 September 2012 11:33 AM

U.S. wholesale inventories in July rose by the most in five months, beating forecasts in a sign economic growth started the third quarter on stronger footing than expected.

A separate report on Wednesday showed import prices rose in August as the cost of imported oil jumped, a factor that could weigh on American consumers and temporarily boost inflation.

Total wholesale inventories climbed 0.7 percent in July to $485.2 billion, the Commerce Department said. That was the biggest increase since February.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected stocks of unsold goods at U.S. wholesalers to rise 0.2 percent after falling by 0.2 percent in June.

U.S. economic growth has been woefully slow since the 2007-2009 recession and too weak to push the unemployment rate below 8 percent. The weak economy has fueled expectations the Federal Reserve could try to lower borrowing costs by announcing a bond buying program as soon as this week.

Inventories are a key element in the government's measure of changes in gross domestic product. Weaker growth in inventories dragged on GDP during the second quarter, when the economy expanded at a 1.7 percent annual rate.

Economists polled by Reuters ahead of the inventory data expected the GDP growth rate to hold steady in the third quarter at 1.7 percent.

In July, automobile inventories rose 0.4 percent and computer equipment stocks jumped 3.8 percent, while metals fell 0.7 percent.

Sales at wholesalers edged 0.1 percent lower after falling 1.4 percent the prior month. Economists had expected sales to increase 0.7 percent.

U.S. stocks rose, boosted by the decision of a top German court to support the euro zone's new 700-billion-euro bailout fund in the latest effort to stem the region's debt crisis. Yields on U.S. government debt also rose.

The European debt crisis looms as a major threat to the U.S. recovery from the 2007-2009 recession.


In a separate report, the Labor Department said U.S. import prices rose in August for the first time in five months, climbing 0.7 percent.

The cost of petroleum imports increased 4.1 percent. Higher prices at the pump threaten to hurt consumers' pocket books.

Analysts had expected overall import prices would rise 1.4 percent in August.

Many economists expect higher fuel costs will contribute to a short-term rise in inflation that could be seen in a report due on Friday on consumer prices.

"Significant energy price gains are likely to be a feature," said Barclays economist Peter Newland.

There was little sign of broader inflation pressures in the import data. Non-petroleum import prices declined 0.2 percent, a sign that the cooling global economy is reducing companies' ability to raise prices.

Prices for imported consumer goods outside automobiles fell 0.3 percent, while prices were flat for cars and auto parts brought into the country.

Import prices were flat from major trading partners Japan and China. Import prices from the European Union fell 0.4 percent.

The Labor Department report also showed export prices rose 0.9 percent last month. Analysts had expected export prices to rise 0.4 percent.

© 2018 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2012 11:33 AM
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